As Christian schools begin planning for the next school term, one question that needs to be addressed is, “How can we close the back door?” This means closing the door for students leaving during the year or not returning for the next school year. When was the last time your school took a close look at retention rates across grades? I have not seen any national statistics; however, in Victory Chrisitan School, where I was the administrator for 35 years, the retention rate ranged from 67 to 98 percent depending on the grade level.
Retaining students in a Christian school is a continual concern. Unlike public schools, where students come from assigned attendance areas and are compelled to attend based on law, Christian schools must go out and recruit students. For some schools, survival depends upon aggressive recruiting. For others, it is a matter of retaining students already enrolled: closing the back door.
Reasons for Withdrawal
Parents withdraw their children from Christian schools for many reasons. The primary reason is the lack of finances. Keeping the cost of operating a Christian school as low as possible is a must. But, lower-cost without quality programs will not sustain the school. Adding to the quality of the school has the greatest influence on retaining students.
We would estimate that 70 percent of those students attending a typical Christian School come from homes where every dollar spent on tuition is a sacrifice. What is it that would cause parents to continue to sacrifice to keep their students at a Christian school? Is it the wonderful facilities? Could it be the small class sizes? How about the strong athletic program? Maybe it is the Christian textbooks or all the special classes and courses offered such as art, foreign language, computers, music, physical education, and the band? Is it the twenty-four-hour code of conduct for high school students or the standardized dress code? Could it be the strong moral character training that is taking place?
These reasons and many others may contribute to a willingness on the part of parents to undergo extreme sacrifice to provide a quality Christian education for their family. But, the most important reason is teachers.
Parents are thinking, “Do teachers and administrators really care enough about my children to make it worth my sacrifice? Do my children’s teachers really care enough to take the time to make a difference? Are they going the extra mile, treating each student as important, building up their self-esteem, pressing them towards excellence, and working with them to achieve at their greatest potential?”
Making a Difference
I heard one parent say, “If I’m going to pay this much money for this kind of school, I might as well send them to public school.” Teachers and administrators do make a difference in how effective the school is in retaining students. If we are going to close the back door, the school staff must take on the ministry of an encourager, doing whatever it takes to let students and parents know “WE CARE.”
What is it that would lead students to conclude that staff care? When Victory students were asked this question, the answers were surprising. It was the small acts that counted the most, such as getting assignments back on time, listening to what students were saying rather than always telling students what to do; taking time to become involved in their lives, and asking how things were going rather than just about academic subjects and homework.
At the heart of caring is love. 1 John 4:11 says, “Dear friends since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (NIV) As Christian educators allow Christ to fill their lives, they will be able to love their students. It is the love of God flowing through the teacher that holds the most difficult student captive. Students respond positively to love. They will go wherever you want or do what you assign if they feel you love them.
As Christian educators, we must never forget that we possess the power of exercising supernatural love. We can love the unlovely; the girls who are a constant source of irritation and the boys that keep trying our patience. These are all within the limits of our love.
Prayer and determination are the keys to successful loving. When God said, “Beloved, let us love one another. . .” (1 John 4:7, KJV), He gave a command to love. He also gives the means to do it, and we must do so if we are going to close the back door. There are still a few more months before school closes for the year; now is the time to begin to close the back door.
You can find this and other inspirational and practical topics in Christian School Insights.